- Planting the church in Jerusalem (1:1 - 8:3)
- Church planting in Judea and Samaria (8:4 - 11:18)
- Church planting among the Gentiles: Antioch and the Roman Empire (11:19 - 21:14)
- Paul's imprisonment: Jerusalem, Caesaria, and Rome (21:15 - 28:31)
Authorship, date, and background
The Acts of the Apostles and Luke's Gospel were written by the same person. Luke has been identified with both books from the earliest days, and while neither book has any author's identification in the text, there is no reason for supposing the books were written by anyone else. The internal evidences clearly point to someone close to Paul, to one who was his co-laborer in the gospel. No other Pauline companion fits the facts as closely as Luke. The date for the book lies somewhere between A.D. 64 and 72. Tradition has it that Luke died shortly after Paul was executed and The Acts ends with Paul's imprisonment in Rome. The two years spent there gave Luke sufficient time to do his research work in tracing down what happened as the gospel was preached throughout the Roman Empire. There is good reason to believe that the Good News was preached in North Africa and in the regions to the east of Palestine and perhaps as far as India and maybe even China. Luke did not write about that aspect of the gospel's progress. He confined his attention to Palestine, Turkey, and the Greek and Roman areas.
The Acts of the Apostles give the briefest account of all that transpired following the ascension of Jesus Christ and the beginning of the church at Pentecost. So Luke's account is limited largely to the ministries of Peter and Paul. In these discussions it should be remembered that the ultimate author of all Scripture is the Holy Spirit, who selected and used the writers to accomplish the divine purpose. In the doing of this, while we have not been told everything that happened, we can know that what we are told is trustworthy and can be dependent on theologically and factually. Moreover, in Luke's case he certainly knew by personal experience some of what he wrote about. He gathered information no doubt from such people as Silas, Titus, Timothy, Apollos, John Mark, Barnabas, and many others. The Holy Spirit aided him in the choice and selection of his material and kept him from saying that which is not true.
Characteristics and content
Luke provides the link which connects the four Gospels with all of the other apostolic writings found in the New Testament. This book is really the bridge, the absence of which would leave us immeasurably poorer and in the dark about the earliest days of the church. Luke commences with the ascension, recording another statement of Jesus' command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Then comes Pentecost, which is the birthday of the church. Here it was that the disciples of Jesus received the power the Master had promised and were enabled to go forth preaching the word and performing miracles to attest to the truth of what they proclaimed.
The sermons Luke records are strikingly similar in content. Again and again the core of the messages claims that Jesus Christ died for men's sins, rose again, and had been exalted in heaven at the throne of His Father. This Jesus, they claim, is the Lord, and Christ the Messiah, who is for Jew and Gentile alike. They urge men everywhere to repent, accept Christ by faith, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and enjoy the promise of God of their participation in the new age which began at Pentecost and which would reach its consummation with the return of Jesus in righteousness to judge the world. The resurrection of Jesus lies at the heart of the apostolic Good News.
Luke also emphasizes the person and work of the Holy Spirit - the one who brings conviction of sin, of righteousness, and of judgement. He sends forth workers into the harvest field (see Acts 13). Sin is judged immediately in the early church to show men they cannot play fast and loose with God and with truth. Ananias and Sapphira are the first to experience the wrath of God for transgression. It is Peter who speaks of their sin as one in which they were lying to the Holy Spirit (5:3). Luke records how believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and this makes all the difference in their lives in the ministry. Of Paul and Silas, Luke says they "were forbidden of the Holy Ghost [Spirit] to preach the word in Asia" (16:6).
This book comes to a conclusion at a time when the Roman Empire had been evangelized, churches established, elders and deacons selected, and the basic order of the church set up.